This is a question I have asked myself over and over– “if I am a writer, why am I not writing?”
I AM writing, or thinking about writing, or reading some deathless passages penned during my starry-eyed youth. Poetry, expounding on the various virtues and lack thereof possessed by certain passages of fancy…romantic interests with which my life had been wrecked by unrequited love, or various disastrous relationships…real or imagined.
Thinking about writing has always been a favorite of mine.
By “writing” I mean actual seat-in-chair pounding away at the keys, producing Fiction. Non-fiction has always been a form of writing, but not the end-all-be-all of fulfilling the Writer’s need and longing to … well, write. Enthralled by my own turn of a phrase…disappointment at some less-than-ideal piece of work. Who among us Writers has not spent a stray hour re-reading our work and marveling at how remarkable was the phraseology, the genius of putting words together in unique and individual style.
“Gosh that’s good, did I write that?”
Or the flip side of that scenario, where I stare at the page in horror… “Good Lord, I could NOT have written this piece of garbage!”
At this point of this narrative I should say that I have in fact worked as a Writer, newspaper reporter, and writer of countless university-level term papers, I have written about almost everything I know, from Stonehenge in England to ancient pyramids in Mexico. Once I wrote about what happened to bank checks when they were “in float,” which meant from the time a check was written until it arrived at the bank and was attributed to personal checking accounts. (Known in the vernacular as “beating the check to the bank.” )
I wrote about a land-reclamation project which used dredgings from a harbor on Lake Erie, scooped out and deposited in an area a mile out on a cause-way to form a park. Wrote about ghost ships at about the same time; and Johnson’s Island confederate prison out on Lake Erie.
Later, working on graduate degrees in Latin American History, I wrote papers on a vast variety of subjects, including the European Union, Herodotus and other “fathers” of Historiography, and Aztec “Flower Wars.”
The point here is that those feature articles were part of my professional position as a newspaper writer, and as a university student…although I have never really considered these to be examples of “creative writing,” and even though I was physically engaged in “writing” virtually every day in some capacity, I longed to do Writing, with a capital W.
Oh sure, like most writers, I have a novel in the works. In fact, I have FOUR novels in various stages of completion…none anywhere near publication. There is a Civil War novel, a Science Fiction novel, a Murder-Mystery of course, and a Time-Travel work based on the development of Christianity in the New World/Mexico.
Within the dream of dedicated work on those four novels lies my goal of being a Writer. This is what I want to write, although I understand that any readership that I ever develop is much more likely in blogging, working on non-fiction articles, opinion, ranting, and yes, the occasional Fictional short story for a WordPress challenge.
So here’s the thing–if I am a Writer, I write.
[Day Eighteen: Writing 101, Hone Your Point of View
The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.]
It’s a shame what is happening to Mrs. Pauley. She is a nice lady, kinda strange, but she always treats me nice. My Dad lived in this house when he was a kid, and he grew up with Mrs. Pauley’s boys. They was about the same age as Dad, and they always played together as kids, then hung out when they were teenagers. I think Dad was in one of the Pauley boy’s wedding once.
Dad always liked Mrs. Pauley, but Mom didn’t. Mom lived in the neighborhood when she was a little girl, and she said her girlfriends did not like to come over to her house because they were scared of Mrs. Pauley. Dad always said “that’s silly.” Mom would say “I’m not so sure.”
I heard Mom talking to one of the other neighbors about Mrs. Pauley and how the landlord who owned the house was coming to evict Mrs. Pauley. That means he coud kick her out and take all her stuff out and set it on he curb. The neighbor, Mrs. Smith, said that was just awful, but what did Mom expect?
Like this morning, I was sitting here on the step, and Mrs. Pauley waved and hollered over
“Good morning, James.”
“Hi, Mrs. Pauley.” She always calls me “James,” instead of “Spider,” which is my street name. Mom doesn’t like it when I say my name is Spider, she says it sounds like a gang name. Mom always calls me “Jimmy” or “Jim.”
It is pretty quiet this morning, no traffic, and no kids outside playing. It is nice and sunny, maybe a good day to ride up to the store or over to the playground. There is no school, because it is Saturday. That means it will be boring around here. I guess I’ll just sit here on the porch swing and read my new comic book, Spiderman. That’s where I got my nickname.
A car just pulled up in Mrs. Pauley’s driveway, way up by the garage. The man who was driving looked at me, but then he just started looking down like he has something he is reading. I wonder who this is…I have a kinda weird feeling about it, like something is wrong. I better just mind my own business and read my comic bok.
Oh-oh, here comes a police car…I hope he keeps on driving by. He’s stopping, and pulling in behind the car in Mrs. Pauley’s driveway. The cop is getting out of the car, and he is looking around. The man in the car is getting out and now he is standing by the cop and they are talking and looking at Mrs. Pauley’s house.
Mrs. Pauley has come to her front door and opened it. They walk up onto Mrs. Pauley’s front porch and are talking to her. The landlord is waving his arms around like he is mad.
I am just at a good part in my comic book.. it is really cool–Spiderman has just dropped down in front of a house. There is an old woman with a cat, and a mean-looking dude in a tall black hat like magicians wear–and WHAT? The comic book lady is screaming. The man in the tall hat has a knife…no, it’s a sword!
A cop…er, police officer (Mom says it isn’t nice to say “cop,” it’s like an insult or something,) in the next panel of the comic has his gun drawn. The cop is grabbing the man’s arms…now he is putting handcuffs on the mean man. Spiderman is handing some papers to the old lady in the comic strip.
Mom is calling me for lunch. Grilled cheese on rye bread, and tomato soup. My favorite lunch.
“How is your new comic book, Jimmy?”
I tell Mom the new comic is great, and I start to tell her about how weird it is that the action in the comic book sort of was like the scene with Mrs. Pauley and the landlord, and the Cop.
“Oh, Mrs. Pauley had some good news,” Mother said with a smile, “her sons got together and bought the house from the landlord. One of the sons is a policeman now, and he was the one to bring her the news.”
Wow! Maybe Mom is right…maybe I DO read too many comics.
[DAY NINE, Writing 101 prompt.]
The day was warm and sunny, although the occasional breeze made the elderly woman glad that she had worn a light sweater over her faded bluejeans and tee shirt. She wore a straw sun hat, with a big sunflower design on it. She often sat in the park on nice days, watching squirrels, or kids, or people strolling along or walking fast with their heads down. Today the woman had her bright geometric print knitting bag, and was working away at a patch of knitting that appeared to be about a foot square.
The woman noticed the couple walking slowly along on an adjacent path, and peered at them from under the brim of her hat. She had not seen them before, the tall pleasant looking man with the aluminum walking cane, and the pretty, fairly small woman wearing office-clothes and a small purse tucked up under her arm. They appeared to be in the mid-30s, and both looked serious…not to say somber, not really sad either. (She was also a writer, and kept her long habit of observing potential “characters” as she went about her daily activities.)
The man’s eyes filled with tears, which he quickly wiped away with his upper arm…holding the cane. wow, where did that come from? Something about that old lady with the bright red yarn…reminds me of a sweater Grandma knitted for me that year she stayed with us. I was fascinated with the way her hands and the knitting needles worked together, and the way the big ball of yarn just seemed to work up into the smooth knitted fabric… like magic. Grandma was the person I loved most in the world… I was just six at the time, and I was her only grandchild. She used to say how much I meant to her, and how lucky she was to be blessed with a grandson. Hmmm, funny how that struck me when I saw that woman.
The man brushed something from the corner of his eye, and laughed at himself.
The young woman also noticed the Knitting Lady, and the bright red needlework in her hand. A sweater for a new grandchild…wonder why she chose red? Oh that’s an odd thought, why not red? The new baby would get several sweaters…yellow, maybe pink or blue. It must be lovely to be a grandmother…once a woman is a mother that is the natural thing. I know that I will never have a baby, let alone a grand-baby. My chance at motherhood has come and gone…left on a battlefield in Iraq. But I hate it when I think like that…my husband and my only love has returned to me. I guess that little red sweater stirred my motherly instincts…
The young woman smiled to herself, and she and her husband continued on their way.
The Knitting lady finished another row of the swatch of red fabric attached to her knitting needles, and inspected the work, counting stitches forming the beginning of the leg holes across the fabric. Satisfied, she gathered her things, wound the excess of the red yarn onto the ball, and inserted the ends of the needles into it to secure them for the trip home.
She needed to finish that little sweater before her sister arrived for the weekend.
Well this is the last time I am going to waste perfectly good yarn, and my time, on that little mutt. “If you eat THIS sweater, Miss Prissy, you can just freeze!”
[Day 6, Characterization Exercise, WRITING 101.]
Note: this person may be fictious.
I was having some Mcnuggets and a chocolate shake, at a familiar fast-foods place where I had dined countless times before. It seemed odd that I had never before noticed the woman with the broom.
Knocking over the shake was accidental, a careless flick of the hand. It made a “flup” sound as the paper cup crashed to the floor, and sort of exploded like toothpaste, spreading in a mess on the floor. In a moment of quiet horror we both stared at the substance flowing onto the floor, its whipped cream and cherry floating out gently like an island.
As I sat there agape, the woman sprang into action. Abandoning her broom, which was useless against the icy goo, she dashed to the paper-napkin dispenser (over by the pop machine) and grabbed a handful. She deftly gathered up the spill, cleaning the floor as I sat there dumb-founded, trying to think of what to do.
The least I could do was to buy the woman a coffee. She sunk down, tired, across from me in the booth. She sighed deeply, as if she had just completed a demanding and complicated task.
AGGIE…her name tag read.
Getting over my embarrassment and fluster, I actually looked at her for the first time.
Recovering my usual aplomb, clever words escaped my lips:
“Is your name really Aggie?”
The woman, who explained that her real name was Agnes, which she actually preferred…but everyone called her Aggie. She always put up with it because that’s how it was.
I peered at her closely, observant as if I was creating her character. Her hair had evolved into a pale golden-rose color, with a good dash of heavy cream. Like the color of my cat…which is a good thing. She was a small woman, but tall at the same time, I thought. Let’s see… if I were called upon to describe her…I’d say she moved as if she were floating. Her voice was soft and slightly-accented, filled with adjectives and strange tones…yes, vocal tones. Her blue, blue eyes, like glistening glaciar ice melting in the deceptive Arctic sun seemed very familiar.
She reminded me somehow of a past time in my own life. Agnes (as I decided to call her,) had not always been a cleaner in a fast-food place, this was simply an old lady’s found-job that gave her a bit of cash for extras above her subsistence pension.
Aggie had traveled to places during her lifetime that had shaped her way of life, always what her mother had called a “free-spirit.” She followed her own trail, especially in the mountains, which she loved. She had known love, and what passed as love, “…and sex, which didn’t even pretend to be love,” she whispered shyly, with a little laugh.
Suddenly the blue eyes grew even clearer, brighter than the glistening blue of melting ice–eyes I knew well. (It struck me that this thought-description might be rather excessive, as I do tend toward purple prose as the critics call it, although some thoughts just need to be over-stated.) I am reminded of other blue, blue eyes that reside in my heart, bringing back memories.
The time and the tale were short. Aggie was on a break, after all, but in the present all of her past–and my own–came to light. Sometimes we can see ourselves reflected in a chance encounter with a stranger.
When leaving the restaurant I paused at the door, and looked back, but Agnes was nowhere to be seen.
[DAY 5 — entry for Writing 101]
A note I found on a path in a crowded park, half buried in mud, almost invisible due to age. It doesn’t say much of anything, but it sends chills down my spine. The meaning is ambiguous. Suspicious person that I am, I decide that the best way to make the note known to its intended recipient–is to publish it in my blog.
CALL ME TODAY — OR PAY
[WRITING 101–DAY FOUR: Something that I had once but lost.]
We are back in the days of the sailing ships powered by great billowing canvas panels, dependent on wind power. I am not sure of the year, or even the type of sailing vessel. It may have been a great Clipper Ship, or a fast-treacherous slaver, or a grand warship complete with cannons. Maybe it was one of those Egyptian ships run by man-power, rowers whose jobs depended on their keeping rhythm, and almost super-human strength and durability.
But no, my sense of adventure and grandeur is getting ahead of me here, and in truth I believe the ship that I am on is actually a medium-size fishing vessel. The chances are my knowledge of fishing and shipping is limited by lack of years…I’m only 15. Except for basic techniques and words of caution from my father and uncles, my brothers and I are learning the fishing trade step by step. I have only recently graduated to get a job on a real fishing boat…a big one, three masts.
We have shipped out, and it is very exciting. Mother was trying hard not to cry, but she is a fisherman’s wife and also the daughter of a man who made the family living working at sea on the ships…she is fully aware of the rewards, and dangers, of fishing and sailing. I was lucky to get a job as a deck hand, and since I’m just beginning my life’s work on the sea, there is a lot to learn. For now my duties are simple…helping cook, running around with orders or supplies, fetching water, and generally keeping my mouth shut and do what I’m told. That isn’t easy for me, but I realize that obedience and a good attitude and work ethic is mandatory for my future success. So I am anxious to prove myself to be a “good all-around hand” so that I can advance to better jobs on the ships.
SIX MONTHS LATER, off the coast of England.
As I have been trying to keep up with my journals (actually we call them “logs, “like the captain does) it has been necessary for me to also keep studying my writing and reading lessons, which is a condition of my employment…insisted on by Mother. Most of the men working on the ship as deckhands and sailors have limited educations, and have worked their way up through the ranks from their own “go-fer” status as young boys. Some of them tell me that I should study and learn all that I can, but others tell me that having my nose in books is a waste of time.
The ocean waves have been choppy lately, and dark clouds gather where there should be blue skies and calm seas. The Captain has ordered us to head back to port, so we are busy watching the wind and minding the sails and making sure that the water barrels and other supplies are held fast with great ropes. The nets have been hoisted into place. The good fishing time and conditions are growing less frequent, and safety rules in place . The safest and most secure plan is to get off of the ocean and into safe harbor.
We are now heading into increasingly heavy waves, and the dark clouds are low in the sky, removing any line of horizon between the sea and the sky. The waves are deafening, twice as high as the ship on one side, water slopping onto the deck on the other. The warning bells are sounding, and I can hear men shouting . The massive sails have been lowered and secured to their masts.
I hear someone shout my name… “Boy! Climb!”
I am holding on to whatever I can, gripping the nearest mast as tightly as I can. I can see the water deepening onto the deck, and I begin to climb. Water reaches my ankles, as I climb higher. I cannot see any of the other men on the ship, only the whipping waves threatening to engulf the ship. I am near the top of the mast–there is no place else to go.
But wait…Mother is there, holding out her hand…